Ruth Hunley: A Tribute

rebelI am taking a break from my usual children’s book reviews to write about my mom, Ruth Hunley.  Today’s blog post is dedicated to Monroe High School Graduates.

Senior year at Monroe High School mean football games, pep rallies and Senior English with Mrs. Hunley.  In our small town, we had  heard about her class for years.  She was known to be the toughest teacher in the school.  She was both praised and feared.

It was especially a unique year for me because Ruth Hunley was not only my English teacher but my mother.

It was a different experience walking into her classroom on that September afternoon. I had done a lot of the obligatory moaning and groaning about having my mother for a teacher. Mom taught all college preparatory English classes and not taking college English was never an option. And ultimately I knew I would have felt left out if I wasn’t hanging out at the public library and doing my assignment sheets like everyone else. :

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked my mother as a teacher. She was so passionate about teaching English.   Like many adolescents, I hadn’t thought much about my mom’s life except in relation to me. Somehow in the classroom, she didn’t seem like my  mother.  I used to joke that we got along better at school than at home.

I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed her class, the hardest academic class taken to date. She treated us like college students, handing us a syllabus on the first day of class.  Expectations were high and communicated clearly. We did lots of research at the public library, learning to use all kinds of reference books and being exposed to all kinds of literature. She began stirring in me the desire to be a writer.

Almost every graduate of Monroe High School from 1962 to 1992 can recite The Prologue  to The Canterbury Tales in Middle English.  The words look like gibberish but once memorized take up permanent memory in the brain.

She was always big on memory work. It was a common sight to have students lined up utside her classroom or dropping by the house to recite their lines.   Some of my classmates claimed that she had memorized MacBeth, the whole play, because she had taught it for so many years. (“Is this a dagger that I see before me? The handle toward my hand, come let me clutch thee.”)

During my childhood, I sometimes grew tired of hearing about my mother. I knew that she was kind to many people, baking cakes, writing encouraging notes and devoting free time to helping students with their work. It became tiresome because I lived with her and I knew she didn’t walk on water.

Every May as long as I can remember, the phone would start ringing at our house. There was always one and usually several students who were failing senior English. Failure to pass senior English meant not graduating with the class, a major humiliation.

My mother was determined that I would be a reader. And early on, I became a serious bookworm. I frequently got in trouble at school for reading books when I was supposed to be listening to the teacher or doing my math problems. I was not much of a student until after high school. I am sure it would surprise no one that my mom read to me constantly. Even at 11 or 12, she would insist on reading me a chapter of the classics like Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

I eventually became a children’s librarian and a writer. All that research in the library helped provide the groundwork for my future career. The desire to be a writer actually began from writing all those themes in Senior English.

I think she and I were both surprised by our classroom experience. She was a much better teacher than I ever expected. I was a better student for her than I had been for most of my earlier teachers.  She was surprised that her underachieving daughter could write well and enjoy working so hard.

My mom died on Feb 10, 1995. For many years, February was a bleak month. but the last two years have been different. I posted a few pictures of her on Facebook and got an overwhelming response from Monroe High School Graduates, many of them people I didn’t know. How I treasured all those likes and comments! Remembering my mom became something to rejoice about. None of my friends in Greenville, S.C. ever met my mom but I suddenly felt a kinship with all these people from Monroe, North Carolina

It’s nice to know there are other people out there who can recite:

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote                         

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,     

And bathed every veyne in swich licour

Of which vertu engendred is the flour,

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye,

That slepen al the nyght with open ye

(so priketh hem Nature in hir corages),

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,

To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

And specially from every shires ende

Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,

The hooly blisful martir for to seke,

That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

Note:  I started this blog to write about children and young  adult books.  I publish posts on Tuesdays and Fridays.